“Are you looking for a solution, or empathy?” Couples therapists teach their clients to ask this fundamental question whenever stress levels begin spiraling upwards. It’s not a question we often ask in the world of enterprise. Businesses are urged to be solutions-oriented. When a client or prospect has a problem, we immediately offer a solution. For example, we at NOS are in the storage solutions business.
It’s easy to forget that sometimes a client or business associate just needs a friendly colleague to say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. I understand.” As solutions providers, business enterprises should never lose sight of the fact that we are also in the listening business, both inside our organizations and in our external dealings. We’re enthusiastic about our businesses and we love helping people – that’s what makes it so easy to get into the habit of pressing solutions on people rather than really listening to what’s going on with them. Sometimes when we listen, we learn that they aren’t in need of a solution right now; they just need to be heard.
And when we lend an ear, we might just gain some valuable insights about the organization as a whole. Those insights could lead to unanticipated opportunities or early signs of changes that could affect an entire industry. As we look forward to this new year, there will be many moments to offer solutions, or to offer empathy. Polish up those empathetic listening skills and see what new opportunities unexpectedly appear.
Now I’ll stop talking, and listen to what you have to say.
Joe Alvarez, an excellent listener and president of National Office Systems Inc., has over 20 years’ experience helping companies and government agencies to bridge the gap between an organization’s processes and technology when considering storage and asset management systems. Since 1976, National Office Systems (NOS) has been the leading provider of the most affordable and comprehensive storage solutions (high density mobile shelving, automated storage and retrieval, stationary shelving, biometric secure access cabinets) and document management systems. NOS saves money for businesses when they move to a new space, showing them how building smaller spaces and leasing less space provides rapid return on investment for capital equipment projects.
We seem to be outsourcing everything these days. Home-delivered meal kits provide gourmet dinners; a gig-economy worker runs errands; a professional dog-walker looks after your pets (and your pets love them more than they love you!). Personal outsourcing is a new growth area, but businesses, educational institutions, and governments have been outsourcing a variety of services for many years. How do you decide what your organization should outsource, and what you should keep in-house?
Your core business or mission is an obvious dividing line in any outsourcing decision. If you’re not in the accounting business, or the fulfillment business, or the marketing content business, you may be better off outsourcing some or all of those functions. Time spent in bookkeeping tasks, for example, is time taken away from your core business.
Two more dividing lines are task frequency and complexity. If it’s a routine task that can be accomplished in a few hours per week, then it should probably stay in-house. However, a man-hour-intensive one-time or occasional project might be appropriately outsourced. And if the task is complex, with a long learning curve for your staff (particularly if the task is unrelated to your core mission), it’s probably better to outsource.
Another deciding factor: automation vs. human time. No doubt many of your business functions – inventory reports, let’s say – are already automated, and outsourcing doesn’t save time or money. Others can’t be automated in-house without a significant investment of time, staff, and equipment. For example, you could assign staffers to a document conversion project, and have them spend hundreds of man-hours ingesting documents and encoding them with DAM metadata and Section 508 accessibility codes. But the hard costs would add up quickly, and staff would be pulled away from their primary functions. Outsourcing to a specialist vender with automated document conversion systems makes much more sense.
When you begin looking at outsourcing, always run a cost-benefit analysis to make sure you’ll get value for your bottom line. Smart Hustle Magazine offers a useful template to see if outsourcing will, or won’t, pay for itself.
And finally, take a look at your own management style. Outsourcing requires managers to relinquish control. Ask yourself what business functions you’re comfortable handing off to an outside vender, knowing that you will lose a measure of control. Who would you trust to have your company’s best interest at heart? If you don’t already have relationships with great outsourcing venders, reach out to colleagues to get their recommendations for trustworthy venders. Then you can turn your attention back to the things that make your business a success.
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